Look into my eyes, not around my eyes, but into my eyes. Oh sweet Jesus! They’re not my eyes, someone’s replaced them with those of a particularly terrifying goldfish!
Hang on. No sorry, I forgot. I’m just wearing my Apple Vision Pro. False alarm everyone!
Yes, I am of course poking fun at Apple’s headline announcement from WWDC.
As a piece of tech, the Vision Pro is incredibly impressive. Not only is the hardware immense, but so is the visionOS software. Whether Vision Pro is truly the harbinger of a new augmented reality age is for another article. But, now Apple has shown its hand, we can more confidently assess the VR headset competition.
Because, if you didn’t know, there are others out there. From the now nervous-looking Meta Quest Pro and Meta Quest 3 to the outside bet, the shiny new XREAL glasses.
So let’s take a journey across VR purgatory to find out who has the best headset.
Apple Vision Pro: The One
It hasn’t even been released yet and still, Apple’s entry into VR headsets already feels like the new industry standard.
You can read all about the nitty gritty in Mark’s article but long story short, it’s insane.
The dual M2 chips and a dedicated, purpose-built R1 chip indicate just how much of a powerhouse the goggles are. Add to that the mixed reality nature of the headset, where digital and physical are blended on command, and Vision Pro really begins to stand out.
Apple also released all of the visionOS capabilities and building tools such as RealityKit to developers early, meaning apps can be built now for the upcoming release. This is huge as it means a plethora of entirely unique, and maybe even useful, apps will be available immediately.
It also means the capability of Vision Pro is widened massively. Other headsets are limited to certain tasks like playing video games but Apple wants theirs to become ubiquitous. Working, making dinner, watching TV, walking the dog, taking a shower. Wait, no, maybe not the last one.
But you get the gist. More apps = more chance that Vision Pro will actually be a worthwhile purchase for the average Joe.
That is when it no longer costs $3,499 (£2,796 to us Brits). An extortionate amount but hey, that’s Apple! In general, though, I think we can all assume Vision Pro will objectively be ‘the best’.
It begs the question however; what if you really really want to wear comically large VR/AR goggles, but you’ve only got $300-1000 to spend?
Meta Quest Pro and Meta Quest 3: The Other One(s)
Meta jumped straight into the VR/AR deep end years ago, headfirst and without checking for rocks beneath the surface.
Formerly owned by Oculus, Mark Zuckerberg gobbled up the company to be part of his new metaverse empire. An empire that is simultaneously yet to materialise and already crumbling at its foundations.
The Quest headset, in its various forms, is sold as a gateway into Meta’s ‘Horizon Worlds’ metaverse. This makes it different to Apple’s offering because the latter is pitched as an all-rounder; something unobtrusive yet transformational.
The Quest however is there to deliberately take you out of ‘reality’ and into a virtually constructed world. Interacting not with human faces but with very Wii Sports-looking avatars. And this is a huge weakness in my books. I just don’t see people opting to interact with augmented versions of real humans over, you know, real humans.
Of course, with the Quest you can do other things like watch movies, play games or video call but this is no longer a USP. All headsets will let you do this in time. Meta has entrenched itself atop the metaverse hill and is willing to die a slow, painful death there.
The hardware and software is also a mixed picture. The Quest Pro, and therefore the Quest 2, are all dwarfed by the Vision Pro’s pixel density. It has 11.5 million pixels per eye compared to a measly 7 million for the Quests. This means everything is a lower resolution on Meta’s side, decreasing immersion and increasing the chance of headaches.
The Quest 3 may change this though. Whilst its resolution is rumoured to be closer to, but still lower than, the Vision Pro it will have a significantly higher refresh rate. 120Hz compared to Apple’s 90Hz. Whilst 90Hz is good, 120Hz is significantly better, meaning blurred movement and motion sickness should be minimal.
And here’s a cat amongst the pigeons. The Quest 3 will start from $499. You can get a Quest 2 for $299! Even the Quest Pro, which, weirdly, will be made redundant by the Quest 3, is $999. So, if you just want to watch movies or play games, Quest 3 is probably the best option from a fiscally responsible point of view.
But, as I said, the breadth of Vision Pro, how it strives to have much wider functionality, is what sets it apart. Whether that’s worth the money is up to you.
PlayStation VR 2, HTC Vive Pro 2 and Valve Index VR: The Gaming One
If what I just said means nothing to you, and all you want is one thing and one thing only, then any of the above will work.
For Playstation users, the PS VR 2 is the obvious choice. With the Quest 2 and Vision Pro, you have to stream games to your headset using the PS Remote Play function. This drops display quality massively and can lead to lag between the headset and the console. With the purpose-built PS VR, this isn’t a problem. It’s just plug-and-play. And it’s pretty damn good at it.
For PC users, there are two options. The HTC Vive Pro 2 offers the highest resolution and therefore the simplest choice. However, the Valve Index VR kit has that 120Hz refresh rate and a unique finger-tracking control system. So if you want something a bit experimental, the Valve Index is an interesting pick.
You can also watch movies on all of these too with their respective apps. So, if you just want an immersive screen for entertainment purposes, I would be tempted to pick one of these three depending on your platform.
Nreal Air and XREAL: The Quirky One
I bet you’ve never heard of these two.
Nreal, now known as XREAL after their upcoming release, specialise in making hyper-wearable, augmented reality glasses. That’s right, not fishbowl goggles but genuinely sleek glasses.
The Nreal Air glasses were the first of their kind to pull off a not-terrible, functional piece of AR tech that sat on your nose like a pair of spectacles. You use them like you would Vision Pro or Quest 3 with similar functionalities; gaming, augmented workspace, watching movies etc.
With a pixel density of 1,920 x 1,080, it is similar to that of the Quest 3 and the updated XREAL glasses will have a 90Hz refresh rate also bringing it up to speed.
The XREAL is really quite clever. It features two screens behind a pair of real glass lenses. The screen reflects the display onto the lenses so the user sees both the display and the real world simultaneously.
However, the XREAL is not a standalone device. It’s just an accessory whereas the Vision Pro is trying to be a wearable, all-in-one computer. For functionality like watching movies or gaming, XREAL relies on whatever device you connect it to. And to unlock its full suite of features, you need to also buy their ‘Beam’ adapter.
The price is a sticking point. At $379 they sit in the range of the new Quest 3 but with a more limited capability. You are paying for the lightweight, unique and wearable design.
But I like XREAL. The long game for Apple and Meta is to create something as powerful as their existing products but in a much more wearable format. Whilst what they have is mega impressive, XREAL is pioneering where other companies like Google have failed.
Talk of the devil…
Project Iris or Google VR: The Resurrected One
Remember Google Glass? They died a very quick and unflattering death.
But did you know they were brought back to life through a Meta collaboration with Ray-Bans?! Yep, you can buy Ray-Bans with cameras inside them. Weird right?
Thankfully Google has loftier ambitions than this. With Project Iris, they hope to compete with Apple and Meta by creating their own VR/AR headset. Not much is really known about how this will take shape, but rumours seem to suggest a Google headset will be similar to the Quests. Less personal computer, more accessory.
This is great and all but it feels incredibly late. 2024 is the expected release. By then, the Vision Pro will have been out for at least 6 months and the Meta Quest several years. Unless Google comes in with some ultra-revolutionary take on VR then I honestly don’t see the point.
Stick to AI.
Final Thoughts: Best VR Headset
Determining the best boils down to two things; desired functionality and money.
The Vision Pro will be the best all-rounder, working as both screen and mini computer. As such, it will be independent. You won’t need to connect it to a laptop. It also comes with its own app platform meaning the possibilities for use are theoretically endless. It is high functionality for a very high price.
The Quest 3 will do a lot of what Vision Pro does, like gaming, but at a lower resolution. It will also not do a lot of what Vision Pro does. For example, you have to use controllers for the Quest 3 and it will have limited mixed reality capability. However, it’s much cheaper and will satisfy most people’s needs.
The rest like the XREAL are the wildcards. XREAL offers a futuristic piece of tech in the here and now. While it may not be as sharp, and smooth and has a reliance on other hardware, it does do the basics of being an immersive screen well.
It also has one other thing going for it; coolness. You don’t have to sit in your living room next to your family wearing a ridiculous hunk of glass on your face. And that’s a win in my books!
Let me know which you would rather own in the comments!